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The Forest is My Teacher

Lessons from stillness.

Mountains intersect, converge, and rise, bit by bit, exceeding what they thought was their maximum height each year. Tectonic plates rub against each other, shaping upward momentum. Not all tectonic plates function in the same manner. Some create divides, split communities of land. The Earth is shaken by segregations that isolate. We all feel the jolt of a great divide.

My relationship with the Earth grows with increasing experiences of exploring its surface, from the Southern Tropics to the Eastern Desert to the Scandinavian Arctic. In the summer of 2017, a squad of thrill-seekers and I formed what we call the Cascadia Collective. The mission of our ensemble is simple: to build community through weekly escapes into our backyard, the Pacific Northwest. Piled together in a Jeep, we leave our unaffordable basement suites to gain fresh air and, often times, perspective. There’s a quality that exists in the stillness of the backcountry that pursues us.

I didn’t understand my yearning for the Earth until I gained recognition of our divorce from it. Our view is often interrupted, spotted with culturally-inflicted blindness. In Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist and Other Essays, Paul Kingsnorth speaks to our disconnect from nature. “Increasingly,” he states, “for those penned into cities with no view of the stars and no taste of clean air and nothing but grass between the cracks in the pavement to nourish their sense of the wild, this is no freedom at all. We have made ourselves caged animals.” An extremist, perhaps, with a voice that rises above the crowds to remind us of what we are missing - not just on a Saturday night, but on a profound level.

A recipe made by algorithms is fed to me by the digital spoonful but it does not satisfy. I stare at a waterfall of scrolling selfies, but I cannot hear the sound of rushing water. Ideas unworthy of platforms bounce back and forth between myself and multiple social media outputs. I don’t always see it, but I am alone, not within, or a part of, anything concrete.

When I am within the woods, I taste the raw quality of my insignificance. It rejuvenates me with a strength my phone charger cannot generate. Lost in a forest expanse that glitters with the present moment, I feel as though I can see. Reality is made visceral.

What’s left, in that stillness?

The forest has become my teacher, rerouting the rhythms of my life. It doesn’t always agree with my thoughts, but it woos me, reaches its branches, shows me how to grow.

What would happen, then, if we moved our gaze upward? We’re trapped in the distance between ourselves and our virtual lives, but what reality is this? We, like tectonic plates, have the ability to shift, to stimulate forward movement. Stepping away from digital distraction, perhaps there is an alternative. In fact, I’ve breathed it.

A trail realigns me, softly -

The Earth is a masterpiece, I am but a fragment.

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